Would your business benefit from a Strategic Alliance?

March 3, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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Being self-employed or working independently has many advantages, but one of the downsides for me, when I first ventured into this new found freedom, was the absence of someone to get creative with.  There were only so many hours in a day, so a limit on what I could achieve.

Consequently, through my network, I created a number of strategic alliances ie joint ventures and informal partnerships where I work with others towards a shared objective.  This includes combining expertise, designing new services and co-referring.  For an extrovert like me, it has been invaluable, not just because one of my business goals is to expand my client base, but also because I want to have more fun!

At The Athena Network we strongly encourage our members to work together to form STRATEGIC ALLIANCES.

We’d love to hear from you, if you are part of a strategic alliance with another Athena member. There are numerous examples within our network – here are just two:

Agustina Tulloch, Sarah Aspital, Penny Campbell and Caroline Shaw all have very different skills and are joining together to offer them all to you at an Afternoon Tea Spa on 15th March.

Josephine Blythe, June Dean, Ellie Barnes, Juliette Smith, Grainne Ridge, Stephanie Smith and Diksha Chakravarti are combining their expertise on 14th May to run their third Business Conditioning Workshop aimed at helping you improve the fitness of your business.

What might the benefits be for you in creating a strategic alliance?

  • Connecting your business with another more established brand could elevate your visibility in your network
  • You might be able to gain access to the network (including possibly the clients) of whomever you link with
  • You could increase your skills
  • It could give you greater buying power (thereby reducing costs)
  • Approaching new clients as larger concern when pitching, could increase opportunities for you.

Who do you want to connect with? 

Think about what you would like the alliance to accomplish before you start approaching people.

  • Perhaps another business in your market that is not a direct competitor would be a helpful link.  You could potentially market to the same customer base.
  • You might even want to create an alliance with a competitor.  I have a great connections with other Coaches.   I don’t have the same expertise as them, so am able to benefit my clients by referring.

How could the alliance work?

  • You and your partner(s) should get clear who is responsible for what
  • Ensure you communicate honestly and regularly with each other and think about how the alliance can become a win-win for everyone involved
  • Ensure your goals are aligned as well as your level of commitment (of energy and time)
  • Discuss any costs involved and ensure that each party has the same understanding

Then you could:

  • Link to each other’s websites
  • Develop joint marketing materials and/or include your material in each other’s mailings
  • Develop a workshop together then market the event as a team

and so much more.

Most of all though – HAVE FUN!

Juliette Smith, Relationship Coach


The Secret of How Much Time We “Should” Spend Networking

February 3, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Networking Tips | 2 Comments
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TimeHow much time should I spend networking?

This is a question we are regularly asked when we meet people and talk about their businesses.  In fact, it was a question I asked myself when I started up my own business in 2010.  I was so busy thinking about all the “work” I had to do, networking was another item on to the already burgeoning “to do” list that we each have as busy business women.

I knew I “should” be doing it so I started going along to various networking events.  As I walked away from each event, with a handful of business cards, I mentally crossed off “networking” on my “to do” list and moved on to do something else.

Those of you who know me will be aware of my views on the word “should”.  If ever I feel I “should” do something, loud alarm bells start ringing in my ears!  “Should” is a word of obligation rather than motivation and, as such, is one of the most energy-draining words I know.

It was, therefore, not much of a surprise that I neither enjoyed networking nor found it useful for my business.  And yet I was spending lots of time on it!  Does this sound familiar?

Get rid of the “should” in your networking

To change the way I was thinking about networking, I asked myself what I wanted from networking.  Think about all the things you are looking for from meeting people.  (Let’s presume that everyone wants to grow their business, so take that as a given.)

Do you enjoy listening to people? Does being with people give you energy? Do you get better ideas when you talk them through with someone? Do you like helping others? Do you work well as part of a team? Do you like being accountable to someone? Do you benefit from taking time away from your office?  Do you want to make new friends? Do you want to connect with businesses that compliment yours? Do you want to meet people in the same industry or profession as you? Do you want to learn new skills to help you run your business?

Once you are clear about WHAT you want from networking, you can look at how important those things are to you and your business.  This supports the prioritisation of the networking activities.

Finding the time

In The Athena Network, the networking is centred around creating relationships.  These relationships allow us to collaborate, inspire and learn.  It is through those relationships that we and our businesses grow.

But how much time does it take to create a strong relationship?

The truth is “it depends”.  Typically relationships develop with time and intensity.  Athena Meetings are designed to provide both time and intensity – working on personal and business development together.  So, by just attending a monthly meeting, your relationship with each person will grow but at a fairly slow rate.

But really great networking is SO much more than attending a meeting.  Here are some of the characteristics of our most successful networkers:

  • They are great listeners
  • They think about how they can help you BEFORE thinking about how you can help them
  • They are punctual and respectful of your time and commitments as well as their own
  • They are passionate about their businesses
  • They keep in touch when they’re NOT promoting something (as well as when they are)
  • They have a “go to” list of connections that they readily recommend to anyone
  • They have their eyes and ears open for opportunities for others, even when they are not “working”
  • They are seeking and are open to feedback about themselves and their businesses
  • They set bold goals for themselves and their businesses
  • They know there is always more to learn from others (irrespective of how long they’ve been doing it)
  • They are willing to share their expertise without expecting something in return
  • They are genuinely interested in other people and their businesses
  • They do what they say they’re going to do

This is what great networking looks like.

Here’s the SECRET

You “shouldn’t” spend ANY time networking.  Be yourself,  Love what you do, Respect others, Be interested, Listen.  The way you are with people says volumes about you and the way you do business even before you get to a meeting.

If effective networking is creating relationships and creating relationships is about who we are and how we treat others, perhaps the questions we can all ask ourselves is

“When I am not networking, what on earth am I doing?”

I’d love to hear your  views.



What Successful Athena Members Have in Common, in 12 Words

December 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Posted in Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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success keyI read a great article on Forbes yesterday about how Paul B Brown, a prolific writer of books on Entrepreneurship is planning to deal with conversations about his work during the festive season:

“One of our guests is going to turn to me and say, “so, Paul, what books are you working on?””

“I’ll run through the entrepreneurship books as quickly as I can;  the person I am talking to will listen politely, and then they’ll say something like this.”

““You have been writing about entrepreneurs for a long time. Is there a commonality among the best ones?””

The article is short, well written and made me smile so do read it.  But if you don’t get a chance, his answer (in 12 words) is:

“Entrepreneurs have a passion for discovering opportunities. Once they do, they act.”

It started me thinking what our most successful members of The Athena Network have in common.

The single most important thing about being great at networking (and, I may say, at business generally) is being yourself.  We are not perfect so let’s not kid ourselves.  We are human and each of us bring something different to what we do, to the people we meet, to the world.  Individuality is a huge strength in life and in your network.  Clones we aint! So if we’re all individuals, perhaps their isn’t a common trait in the successful Athena Members.

However, when I think about the people who have gained the most business or connected with the most people or grown their business the most, some themes do emerge:

  1. They love what they do
  2. They are experts
  3. They stand out (clear about what makes them different)
  4. They are fully themselves, all the time, with anyone, in any situation
  5. They are open-minded
  6. They give time, referrals, connections readily and freely
  7. They have confidence in their work (even if they are not confident at speaking/meeting people)
  8. They ask for help
  9. They seek out collaboration
  10. They value and nurture their network

These members have seen real, measurable growth of their businesses as a result of their networking.  And it is not just the well-established business owners who can lay claim to this either.  Some of our members with relatively new businesses have reaped significant success by doing (and being) all the above.

So, how to summarise what successful Athena Network Members have in common, in just 12 words?  How about this:

“Athena Members trust themselves, love their work and value others”  

Ok, that’s 11 words – but, like I said, I’m not perfect either!  What would your 12 words be?


Is there More for You to Learn?

October 1, 2013 at 8:31 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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Whether as a business person or as a human being travelling this life, there is always value in learning.

It gives us the opportunity to expand our perspective which, in turn, gives us more choices.  It helps us deepen our understanding and consequently have a greater chance of making informed and appropriate choices for ourselves.Jefferson

Intrinsic in The Athena Network’s raison d’être is support for our members’ learning and growth through training and development.  Hence our delivery of two training sessions at every meeting; a free networking strategy training for every member and the support for our members who offer training as a way of sharing their knowledge and expertise

How much training, development or coaching have you benefitted from this year?

If the answer is none or little, I encourage you to think about the difference it would make to you, your life and your business.  For instance, would the following changes in your life make a difference to your success and happiness? And if so, would some support in achieving them be of value?

  •  Decreased stress levels

Knowing your weaknesses and doing something about them will reduce stress, as will focussing on your strengths.

  • Increased emotional intelligence

Being aware of and able to manage your fears and emotional reactions could lower stress levels. Effective business leaders need to be able to manage their emotions and not let them get in the way of making sound judgments

  • Improved work life balance

Prioritising what is truly important to you can have significant effects on your health, your family, your success and your fulfilment.

  •  Clear plans for the future

If you know where you’re heading and why – it’s much easier to be clear on your goals.

  • More motivation and energy

Finding the time and motivation for exercise and healthy eating, can appear a challenge but can you afford not to?  What gets in the way of you prioritising this?

  •  Easier attraction of more clients

If you already have more than enough clients – congratulations.  However, if you think there are more clients out there for you, but you are challenged to reach them, perhaps it’s time to find out how, by doing something different.

  •  Clarity on how to network successfully

Many people think they know how to network but rarely reflect on how their current approach to networking could be improved.  There are countless ways of learning more about networking.

If you’ve still not made the above changes on your own, why not seek the support of someone who can guide and motivate you?  Even if you learned to do just one of them differently, it could change your business and your life.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”.

We’d be happy to introduce you to numerous experts who can help you.  The Athena Network has them in abundance.

Alternatively, just click here for a great place to start .

Juliette Smith, Relationship Coach


How Not To Follow Up In Sales!

October 1, 2013 at 6:05 am | Posted in Articles, Member Stories | Leave a comment
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Grainne Ridge, Business Fit Club

Grainne Ridge, Business Fit Club

This month, Grainne Ridge of Business Fit Club shares her expertise on how we can change how we feel about selling by understanding more about the process.

How not to follow up in sales

Prospects can be frustrating. We have all had the experience of thinking that the business is in the bag and then what comes next is radio silence. They appeared keen to meet and find out more about our products and services. We burned the midnight oil to prepare a proposal and then – nothing. So why does this happen?  Here are just some of the reasons.

  1. We don’t understand their decision making process
    A proposal is just one part of the 11 stages in every buying decision. For this prospect they may be at the market research stage when they ask for a proposal and we have simply provided one more piece of research.

2.   We didn’t ask the right questions in our meeting.

Pre-proposal meetings are the prime time for us to find out as much as we can about the prospect’s business and yet this is often wasted by purely pitching. Do we know their pain points, their plans, their budgets, their timescales, their previous bad experiences with suppliers?  And these are just a few of the things we should know.

3.   We used the wrong language

How well matched was our proposal to their problems? Did we show them that we understood their biggest challenges and how the specific elements of our product would solve these?  Did we use their company language or ours? Did we propose next steps that hit their triggers, management meetings or other decision making steps?

4.  We didn’t follow up well

Did we say that we would call 1 week later at 3.30 and called 1 day later at 9.15?  Indeed, did we ask what the next steps should be? Keeping our commitments is part of the sales process. If we are lax in our follow up what message are we sending about our ability to deliver the goods? Secondly, agreeing up front what the next steps are creates a joint commitment which improves our chance of making contact, but it doesn’t guarantee it. We also need to be resourceful. How compelling are the phone messages we leave, the emails we send, the LinkedIn messages we send?  Who else can we call upon to get closer to our prospects

5.  Their needs have changed

Priorities can change, new stakeholders become involved, budgets get cut – or can increase. Proposals can often raise new issues that the prospect hadn’t previously considered, driving a whole new set of criteria – and a revised decision making process. All this can mean that the business may not happen for another 6 months so we need to find ways to stay in the running. Can we provide useful information in the meantime, invite them to relevant events or point them towards other resources.

6.  We didn’t stand out from the crowd

Few prospects will be simply sitting waiting for our proposal to arrive. They may have seen several suppliers so we need to be memorable. While this could be a novelty gift, if that would be appropriate, it could be our humourous approach, our sensitivity to their workload or an invitation to see our product in action.  Be creative!

So, with these in mind, can you spot what’s wrong with this follow up letter?!

Hi Mary

Can you please take me off your marketing database.

I came to see you and sent you a proposal, which you didn’t bother replying to, despite me chasing it up a couple of times.

I wouldn’t recommend you to anyone or wish to hear what you have to say.



So what can we do to give ourselves the best chance of success?

  1. Find out what their decision making process is – the timescales, the steps and the people who will be involved – and match it with your follow up activities.
  2. Ask what needs to be in the proposal, what format it should take and who else needs to see it.
  3. Deliver against the agreed timescales
  4. Get a specific commitment to the next step – and make it a strong one.
  5. Be resourceful and creative in your follow up
  6. Be useful to prospects, through your information, advice and other contacts you can provide
  7. Think long term.

And remember, in sales questions are often the answer.

Grainne Ridge

Business Fit Club


September’s Networking Tip – Dare to Dream!

September 1, 2013 at 6:00 am | Posted in Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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dream-big-miniDo you ever have those moments where you think about your business and wonder…

“What would it be like if……”

And then, usually, we tell ourselves it’s ridiculous, a pipe-dream, like winning the lottery.  Perhaps we start thinking about how people would mock us for thinking about something so big, how they’d tell us we were crazy or getting too big for our boots – or worse, not tell us that but just THINK it about us – horrors!!

Well, what if you did hold on to that thought for a bit longer?  And what if you shared that thought with someone else – someone you trust, perhaps one of your networking connections?  And what if they didn’t laugh?  What if they agreed with you and perhaps even had some ideas about how it could work? What if it transformed from a dream in to a goal and from a goal in to reality?  YES!

Athena member Samantha Pilling of Biteme Bakery did just that.  She asked for an introduction to a celebrity who wanted a wedding cake designed.  A few months on and, “Ta da!”; her creation is gracing the pages of Hello magazine! Click here to see the results.

successSo, this tip is to dare to dream and, even more than that, tell someone about it.  A great network is there to support you and to believe in your dreams and hold you to them even if you doubt them every once in a while.

I’m looking forward to hearing some big dreams and exciting goals for the rest of the year!

By Stephanie Smith, Stephanie Smith Coaching


July’s Networking Tip – Active or Passive – Which Are You?

June 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Posted in Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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antFirst and most important principle of networking?


As I describe in the post about Laurenne Dorgan – Phenomenal Business Through Athena but That’s Not All…. when I first started networking, I expected everything to happen instantly and for my business to grow just because I’d shown up and shaken a few hands. I was building relationships wasn’t I?  I was being nice, smiling, listening etc. So why wasn’t the business just rolling in? Thinking about it now, it’s embarrassing.  I’d done the easy bit but had failed to grasp the other principles of networking that would transform a “nice chat” in to something meaningful.

  • Give to others first and freely (ie not just when there’s something in it for you)
  • Be trustworthy (if you say you’ll do it, do it – no empty promises for the sake of saying something)
  • Invest in & nurture your network as a whole & your connections as individuals (it says more about how you do business than any promotional material)

In other words, I was being PASSIVE when I needed to be ACTIVE. So, what does that mean for your networking?  Take a look at these lists and see which category you fall in to….


  • You attend meetings if you can but if you get too busy you don’t worry about not showing up one month
  • You have a couple of people you’ll call to hotseat if you can’t make it but if they can’t do it, you stop looking
  • You prepare for the meeting on the morning you attend, and sometimes you don’t even do that
  • You rarely ask for one-to-one’s (121’s) and if you do accept someone else’s invitation you may cancel it at short notice or turn up late
  • You follow up with someone weeks after the meeting or possibly not at all – if they really wanted your business, they’d contact you….


  • You treat every networking meeting like a potential client pitch.  You showing up prepared and energised demonstrates how important your network is to you.
  • If you really can’t attend, your hotseater is well briefed, knows you and your business and does a great job to represent you and your brand.
  • You have prepared for the meeting several days in advance. Your call to action is clear and concise. You have studied the attendee list to see who will be there and how you might be able to help them.
  • You schedule between 1 and 3 121’s (or 122’s, 123’s) meetings every month because you know that, even if it’s not clear immediately, you may be able to help that person and they may be able to help you.
  • You follow up with every contact in a timely way and more than once if necessary. You know that the way you follow up outside the meeting shows others how you respect your potential customers and how you run your business.
  • You invite new people to visit your network to keep it energised and productive.  You know that this demonstrates your commitment to the group as a whole as well as to your individual contacts.
  • You’re always on the look out for people you can introduce to others in your network.

So, which are you?

By Stephanie Smith, Stephanie Smith Coaching

Thanks to Lisette Howlett from Sandler Training for her Athena Central London Blog Post which inspired this article.

Phenomenal Business Through Athena But That’s Not All…

June 28, 2013 at 11:54 am | Posted in Member Stories | Leave a comment
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When I first started out on the networking circuit, I expected immediate results; new clients signing up on the spot, referrals and recommendations to all their contacts, big corporate opportunities landing at my feet etc. etc.

When that didn’t happen in the first month, I told myself that networking didn’t work and I took myself off and sulked behind my laptop for a few months.  Funnily enough, that didn’t help!

LaurenneIf only I’d met Laurenne Dorgan from PBS Services, she’d have set me straight instantly!  Laurenne is a prolific networker.  She is a member of several groups and, at virtually every meeting, new clients sign her up, provide referrals and/or give her glowing testimonials for her work.  And she does the same for others.

Here she tells us how she makes her Athena membership work for her and her business year after year.

Q: What made you join The Athena Network originally & what makes you renew every year?

I’ve been an Athena member for 6 years and I belong to two groups, I also belong to BNI and have done for 11 years (since I started my own business).  I find it is important to build relationships and that is not done by just joining a group for a year.  You need to be in it for the long term and build long term relationships and support your group.

I joined Athena because I wanted to join a women-only networking group that was serious about business – Athena has a structure which I like too and I find that women like to do business with other women.  Very powerful things can happen and great connections can be made.

Q: How do you use networking to grow your business?

I have a monthly structure for my networking and I always attend every meeting, I put all the dates in the diary at the beginning of the year so I never miss a meeting, I always try and bring visitors to the group and I always try and connect and give referrals

Q: How would you quantify the business you’ve gained through Athena?

The business I have had through Athena has been phenomenal, but it is not just about the business, it is about the whole support structure, the training and the long term friends that I have made which makes it so important to me.

Q: What advice would you give someone thinking about joining Athena?

JOIN! But you must take it seriously, do your 1-2-1′s, always attend every meeting, stick at it and don’t just join for a year, bring visitors and enjoy every meeting.

June’s Networking Tip – Listen With Your Eyes!

May 31, 2013 at 8:35 am | Posted in Networking Tips | 1 Comment
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I was reading a blog this month about how Richard Branson networks.  Yes, he has presence, charisma and sharp mind, all of which are pretty compelling.  But what shone out above all that, was his ability to really listen to what the other person was saying.  He has the ability of giving someone his undivided attention even while lots of people wanted to catch his eye for an audience with him. The writer described it as “laser focus eye contact”.  That level of focus made the writer feel amazing – really listened to – and it made him realise that Branson’s success was due to more than some good ideas and a few shrewd business decisions.

In our Networking Strategy Training this month, we used some networking scenarios that we had experienced or heard about to start off conversations on how to deal with them.

One scenario that prompted great discussion was when people you meet appear to be looking over your shoulder whilst listening to you.  If it happens to you, it’s easy to feel that your fellow networker is waiting for “someone more interesting” to arrive.  In that situation we may, at best, disengage from the conversation and move on or, at worst, go home feeling shunned.

Strong eye contact does not have to mean your conversation is intense or serious, it can be fun and relaxed but it does show that you are interested in the person and what they are saying.  It increases the likelihood that you will remember their name, what they say and what they are looking for so that you can provide them with better connections.  And, perhaps best of all, it will make you memorable as someone who really listens.

We cite this quote a lot because it is one of the best reminders for us as we network and, in fact, as we live our lives – the quote from Maya Angelou:“People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

So ladies, use your eyes to listen and see what a difference it makes!

May’s Networking Tip – Spring Clean Your Networking!

May 2, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Posted in Networking Tips | 1 Comment
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Window-CleaningIt’s Springtime at last.  It’s a time of optimism and growth – in nature and in our businesses too.

So, what does that mean for your networking? If you did a “spring clean” of your networking, what would you keep and what would you change?

Do you visit the same meetings every month, saying  the same things to the same people, with the same results?  Urgh, that sounds unproductive! And guess what?  It’s not the fault of the meeting or the people, or the time of day, it’s because you’ve got stuck in a networking rut.

So what can you do to put a spring back in your networking?  There are plenty of networking meetings around Reading so why not pick out two or three that are new to you or you haven’t visited for a while and give them a try?  You’ll be surprised at how quickly your networking skills sharpen up AND you’ll meet new people, growing your network.

And to make it work even better, you can invite those new connections back to your regular networking events, bringing the great results of your spring clean to your network.  The MOST SUCCESSFUL business women in The Athena Network are those who keep their networking fresh and vibrant and who share that energy with everyone they meet.

Reading Networking Events to Try:

  • Business Biscotti – Reading North – 2nd Wednesday of the month, 10am-12noon, The Mill, Sonning
  • Business Biscotti – Reading Central – 1st Tuesday of the month, 7.30am-9am, QV Offices, Queen Victoria Street
  • First Friday Club – First Friday of the Month – various locations
  • Redingensians Rugby Business Networking Lunch – 7th June
  • Network your Business Berkshire – Facebook and some meetings
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